Image: ©Nationale Beeldbank

Options for improving population screening for cervical cancer

Population screening for cervical cancer was renewed in 2017. Since then, smears have first been tested for the presence of human papillomavirus (HPV). The cells of the cervix are only assessed for abnormalities (cytology) in cases where this test gives a positive result. Another innovation introduced in 2017 is that women are now able to request a self-sampling kit. In the privacy of their own home they can use this to swab material from their vagina, which is then tested for the presence of HPV.

The Health Council recommends that self-sampling kits should be offered equivalently to all women who are invited to undergo population screening for cervical cancer, and should automatically be included with these invitations. It takes the view that complete freedom of choice – coupled with the convenience of not having to apply for the set separately – should substantially mitigate any obstacles to participation in the population screening programme. This should enable more cases of cervical cancer to be detected at an early stage.

Another improvement recommended by the Health Council is that referrals to gynaecologists should be subject to more specific criteria. That would help to reduce the number of referrals that are subsequently found to have been unnecessary. The Council also recommends that the possibility of using computer-assisted screening should be explored. This method partly automates the assessment of abnormal cells.